Dichotomous Keys & Trying Not To Freeze

It was a pretty cold week for Earth Studies students, but we managed to find some sunny places to sit and learn about Trees and Wildland Fires. In the tree portion of the day these kids learn how trees grow and the different parts of the trees anatomy as well as learning to identify the various trees in the Mountain Park. They also learn how to age the Ponderosa Pines of the park (without cutting them down and counting the rings).

In the fire portion of the day these students are taught about the Mason Gulch fire which came within 4 -1/2 miles of the Mountain Park. Most students found forest fires to be much larger and more destructive than they had previously imagined them to be.

One thing I noticed this week was that as the children did the Tree I.D. exercise they no longer seemed to notice the cold.

Tree I.D.
combines a scavenger hunt element with the mystery of figuring out which of the six coniferous trees in the park is which. Students use a dichotomous key designed for the trees found in the Mountain Park; by examining the trees closely to answer the series of questions on the key they eventually arrive at the answer.

After doing about nine trees these kids could identify some trees just by looking at them at a relative distance.

This session goes a long way toward educating these kids about how nature works and how to better steward their park and other wild areas of Colorado. Their minds are opened up to new possibilities such as the idea that wildland fires are not good or bad, but just a natural and necessary part of the health of the ecosystems they have been studying.

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